Posted in Reading

Book Review: The Empty Grave by Jonathan Stroud

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Title: Lockwood & Co: The Empty Grave
Author: Jonathan Stroud
My Rating: 5 stars

Rarely do I find a book or a series of books that I love as much as Lockwood & Co. by Jonathan Stroud. This weekend, I finished The Empty Grave, the fifth and final book in the series, and the feelings I have about these characters’ stories coming to an end are very bittersweet.

The Lockwood & Co. series is about teenage ghost hunters in London. It is set in a time when ghosts have become a big problem in society. Instead of just one or two popping up now and then, they’re everywhere, and they’re dangerous. Ghost-touch is fatal, and adults are especially vulnerable because they can’t see the spirits. Children and teenagers are the ones with the Talents– the ability to see, hear, and sometimes communicate with the dead– so they are the ones hired to fight the ghosts, locate their Sources, and seal them to protect the living. Most of the agencies have adult supervision, but not Lockwood & Co. This small, independent group works without adults, and they’re not afraid to break the rules (or burn a few houses down) to get the job done.

In The Empty Grave, the Lockwood team, consisting of Lucy Carlyle (the sensitive who can communicate with Type 3 ghosts), Anthony Lockwood (the confident, reckless leader of the group), George Cubbins (the always-messy, expert researcher), and their associates (Holly, Kipps, Flo, and the Skull in the jar) are homing in on something big. They think the head of the top agency in London is not who she claims to be and they may actually be close to solving the ghost problem. But in order to prove they’re right, they have to face more danger than ever before, and may even have to take a trip to The Other Side.

One of my favorite things about this book is the Skull in the jar. The Skull is a character in the story, an unusual one. He is the Source of the ghost of a teenage boy, but he’s trapped in a silver glass jar, so he’s not dangerous, and he can communicate with Lucy. He’s sarcastic and rude to her but sometimes helpful, and I love the interactions between them. In this book, the Skull keeps trying to persuade Lucy to let him out of the jar, though he’s not exactly convincing. Here’s an exchange from page 99 of The Empty Grave:

“‘Say I let you out. What would you do?’
I’d flit about. Stretch my plasm. Might strangle Cubbins. Carry out a spot of casual ghost-touch, now and again. Just simple hobbies.’

I think the author writes the Skull’s voice really well. Although he can be a giant pain to Lucy, I love his wit and humor and enjoy listening to his snide remarks.

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How I spent my Saturday…

I love to read, but I am often a slow reader. However, I flew through The Empty Grave, finishing this 437-page book in less than a week. On Saturday, I read for hours, losing a few fingernails and gaining a LOT of calories in the meantime. (I like to snack while I read.) I kept trying to put the book down to do chores or grade papers, but I couldn’t stay away for long. I couldn’t leave my favorite characters alone in such desperate situations. I had to go back. I had to know what happened next. That’s another reason why I love Jonathan Stroud’s books. His characters feel like friends. I’m never lonely when I’m hanging out with Lucy and Lockwood and George. (And the Skull in the jar.)

That brings me to the only thing I didn’t like about The Empty Grave: it ended. I loved the book, but I hate that this story is over. I will miss my character friends. However, there is a way to keep in touch with them. YOU can read the books, and you can tell me what they’re up to. I’d really like that.

If the Lockwood & Co. series sounds like something you would enjoy, start with book one, The Screaming Staircase, and tell my friends hello for me.

Posted in Halloween, Reading

Haunted Austin, A.K.A. Be Careful With Your Brain

Happy Day-After-Halloween!

I had so much fun yesterday that I forgot to even post here. 🙂

My Halloween-Birthday was a laidback day of hanging out with my hubby and pets, and I loved every minute of it. The day included some very thoughtful and spooky gifts (such as the eyeball necklace and Day of the Dead bottle opener from my hubby’s sisters) and lots of ghostly books (because my family and friends know me well). I also went to see Hotel Transylvania 2 (so cute), had a nice nap (when you’re 39 you get to nap on your birthday if you want), and had a great time handing out candy to all the adorable trick-or-treaters in the neighborhood. I think my favorite costume this year was the little boy wearing the skeleton suit and rainbow butterfly wings.

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My birthday celebration ended with one of my favorite pastimes—reading scary stories in bed. This year, I chose nonfiction and opened up my new book, Haunted Austin: History and Hauntings in the Capital City. It’s by Jeanine Plumer who, coincidentally, is the woman who started the Austin Ghost Tours, which I attended for the first time last Wednesday night.

This isn’t an official book review because I’m only halfway through the stories so far, but I can already tell you this is a great book. I’m no stranger to stories of local hauntings. I like to pick up local lore on vacations, and have read both Haunted Alaska and Haunted Maine among other things. Strangely, though, I’ve never learned much about my own town’s ghostly lore until now.

While I enjoyed both the Alaska and Maine books, there wasn’t a lot of substance to their ghost stories (no pun intended). They focused on the haunting part and skimped on the background info, often leaving the causes of the disturbances vague or easily doubted. But Haunted Austin is a well-written volume that concentrates on the history of the city and then shares snippets of ghostly phenomena that relate to that history. Some people might be disappointed that Plumer devotes eight pages of text to the Lake MacDonald flood in April of 1900 before mentioning any specters, but I loved it. I’m learning so much about Austin and, to me, the history makes the ghost sightings that much more intriguing.

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So, last night, Halloween night, I was in bed reading Haunted Austin, and although I was loving the book, I didn’t expect it to scare me. I mean, being told that someone saw a ghost is cool, but not skin-crawling, make-you-look-behind-you creepy. And I was right—the book didn’t scare me. But one story totally and completely traumatized me and made me worry I would have nightmares. That was the story of Josiah Wilbarger.

When something traumatizes me, I like to tell as many people as possible so that they can be traumatized too. (I’m generous like that.) So I’m going to sum up the story for you here.

(Warning: You might want to sit down and stop eating.)

Josiah Wilbarger was shot in the neck by Comanches in 1833 and left by his friends who thought he was dead. But really he was just temporarily paralyzed. The Comanches stripped him naked and scalped him WHILE HE WAS CONSCIOUS, then left. He later came to, regained his ability to move, and crawled for a while before being rescued due to prophetic dreams and ghostly appearances. (That part was cool but not what traumatized me.) Josiah lived for eleven years after being scalped, BUT…

“Wilbarger’s head where he had been scalped never healed, leaving a portion of bone exposed. He kept the area covered as best he could with scarves and hats, even fashioning a metal plate to cover the hole. In time though, the bone became diseased and weakened, finally exposing the brain. Sadly, infection made its way into the moist tissue and eventually worked its way to the inside of his brain. The pace of his slow deterioration accelerated when he bumped the exposed spot on a low door frame.”

AAAAAAAAA! EW! EW! EW! He had a HOLE in his HEAD exposing his BRAIN and he bumped it on a door frame! HE BUMPED HIS BRAIN ON A DOOR FRAME!!!!

Forget fiction horror stories, this was the most horrible, disgusting thing I’ve read in a LONG time. I look forward to seeing what the rest of Haunted Austin has in store for me.

Have a nice day, and try not to bump your brain on anything.

Posted in Halloween, Life

It’s October!

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The air is getting cooler, and my yard is filled with pumpkins and creepy creatures, including Edward Broomhands, who’s new to the family. I have the theme song from The Blob stuck in my head, and all my smiley faces have fangs, and I’m happy, HAPPY, HAPPY because my favorite month is here!

Don't mess with Edward Broomhands.
Don’t mess with Edward Broomhands.

Last year I wrote NINE Halloween-related blog posts during the month of October. Wow. Sadly, I have no intention of trying to break that record this year, or even tie it. My little witchy heart wants to, but between jobs and novel revisions and various festive events on the calendar, I just don’t have the time. Plus I’ve got those zombies to kill, that monster to reincarnate, some apples to poison, and somewhere in there I’ve got to get these horns looked at. See? I’m swamped. In fact, if you see me blogging more than three times this month, STOP ME! It means I’m neglecting something important. Or I’ve been possessed.

But before I leave you to your own ghoulish amusements, here are a few things I think you should know.

Fun Literary Halloween Events

First, there are some really cool Halloween-themed literary events in Austin this month. Or literary-themed Halloween events. I’m not sure. I just know they all sound awesome.

Grimm’s Ghostly Fairy Tales & Haunted Trails at Pioneer Farms – This family-friendly event runs for three weekends and includes all the fixings for a spooktacular Halloween.

Texas Book Festival Lit Crawl – On the night of October 17th, authors and book-lovers will be gathering all over the city for unique interactive events such as games, trivia, and collaborative short stories. One session called Are You Afraid of the Dark? will be held in the Texas State Cemetery, where YA authors will tell spooky tales and ghost stories.

SCBWI Ghost Tour – If you’re a member of SCBWI, join the Austin chapter for a ghost tour on October 28th, when we’ll take a haunted moonlight walk through some of Austin’s creepiest history.

A Special Gift

Last year, I posted a plea to anyone who reads my blog to help me find the Halloween artwork my dad made for me that was stolen several years ago. Unfortunately, my post turned up no leads, and I came to terms with the fact that I’d probably never see the thing again. That’s still true. But this year, my dad made me a new one that’s even bigger and more awesome that the one that was taken.

Made by my dad with spooky love
Made by my dad with spooky love

Thanks, Dad! I love it. And to any would-be thieves out there, you should know that this one has been secured so that you can’t run off with it. It’s also been cursed. Anyone who steals it will be doomed for all eternity. Oh and my pumpkins are also cursed. And my car. And my mail. And my potted plants. Look, just don’t steal from me. Everything I own is cursed.

And last, but certainly not least…

We Are All Being Watched

It’s now hammock weather in Austin, which I love. About a week ago, I spent three hours reading in my hammock in the backyard. When the sun went down and I could no longer see my book, I got my book light and a blanket and kept reading. I stayed out until about 9:30 p.m. While I was out there, I kept seeing tiny greenish glints coming from the grass in various places. I wondered what was reflecting the light, worried it might be something sharp like a piece of broken glass. I meant to check later but forgot and by the time I remembered I couldn’t find them again.

A few nights later, while standing on the back porch shining a flashlight in the backyard (because I thought I heard something), I saw them again—a tiny green sparkle under the rosemary bush, another under the hammock, a third by the bird bath, a fourth in the grass. I decided to investigate.

You know what they are? Spider eyes! They are the eyes of spiders. Spiders that are looking at ME with their spider eyes.

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That is all. Sleep tight.